We have two boys, ages six and four, and to say that there are occasional conflicts between them would be a massive understatement. My wife and I are routinely challenged to referee and sort out their disagreements, which can sometimes turn physical. It’s a lot of work and causes a lot of headaches.
We are constantly trying to figure out what lies at the heart of their arguments, what sparked it, and how we can try to avoid the conflicts in the future. I bet many of you who have multiple kids are facing the same difficulties.
Here are some potential solutions.
1. Separate Them
The first thing that you need to do is separate the kids. I know this seems obvious, but you probably need to take them to separate rooms or else they will continue bickering, arguing, and carrying on. This will also give each child a chance to cool off independent of the other.
2. Get Both Sides of the Story
This is where your investigative skills come into play. You need to ask each child specific questions about what happened and how it unfolded. Of course, your skepticism meter needs to be on high alert because your children might try to minimize their involvement. It’s critical that you try to get the full story. Clearly, there might be gaps in each child’s re-telling but it’s important for each side to somewhat agree on what happened. Also, make sure that you spend a great deal of time listening and pay close attention to what each child is saying.
3. Encourage Honesty
Sometimes a child will not only try to minimize their involvement, but they might want to withhold information that will get their sibling in trouble. Parents are fairly adept at sniffing out this type of subterfuge. Encourage honesty by reminding them that you’ll be firm but fair and simply want to get to the truth of the matter.
4. Don’t Take Sides
It’s important when you’re talking to your kids that you don’t appear to be taking sides. If they sense that you’re giving short shrift to their side, that will only inflame the situation. Be impartial. Listen. Ask non-leading questions. It can be difficult to not show favor or rely on prior events for guidance, especially if you have one child who persistently instigates. But it’s best and will result in a fairer outcome if you can enter the situation with an open mind.
5. Find a Fair Solution
This is the most difficult part of the entire drama. You want to create a solution that is fair, allows each side to walk away feeling that they got something they wanted and also send a message to limit this behavior in the future. How do you accomplish all of those things? It depends on the situation but you can follow several steps.
First, don’t make a rash decision. Take some time and think through a possible outcome that accomplishes the goals you’ve decided on. Second, once you make a decision and you believe it to be fair, don’t back down. Your children may protest your decision and try to get you to amend it, but you need the courage of your convictions.